first fig

my candle burns at both ends…

Category: feminism

What my daughter learned in church today

What’s wrong with this picture?

Here’s a hint…

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Weekly Anti-Woman Wacko

It’s that time again, time for me to highlight an anti-woman wacko who made news this week.


I read an op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week that was so full of chauvinism, cultural imperialism and xenophobia it made me sick to my stomach. Jean-Francois Cope is the president of a major French political party and the mayor of Meaux. During his career he was also the Minister of the Budget and the spokesperson for the French government. Cope is an influential leader in France but unfortunately he uses that influence to trample on the rights of Muslim women.

For those who don’t know, a number of European countries and cities have passed, or are in the process of passing laws that would prohibit women from wearing face veils such as the burqa or niqab in public. The justification for such a law is that “[the face covering] is a mask, a mask worn at all times, making identification or participation in economic and social life virtually impossible.”

Except that women who wear burqas do participate in economic and social life. Several months ago I took a crochet class from one of the local yarn stores. Two of my classmates were young girls, both wearing hair & face coverings. They participated like all the other members of the class, they were affable and funny young women and did not seem at all hindered by the fact that most of their face was covered. Women all over the world go to school, shop for groceries and contribute to society all while wearing veils.


Cope then goes onto say that the burqa is a safety risk:

This face covering poses a serious safety problem at a time when security cameras play an important role in the protection of public order. An armed robbery recently committed in the Paris suburbs by criminals dressed in burqas provided an unfortunate confirmation of this fact. As a mayor, I cannot guarantee the protection of the residents for whom I am responsible if masked people are allowed to run about.

The fallacy in this type of argument is astounding. Since one person wore a burqa to commit armed robbery it must follow that everyone wearing a burqa will commit armed robbery.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “c’mon, mraynes, no person in their right mind would think that Muslim women are like criminals just because they wear a face veil.” But wait for it…

The visibility of the face in the public sphere has always been a public safety requirement. It was so obvious that until now it did not need to be enshrined in law. But the increase in women wearing the niqab, like that of the ski mask favored by criminals, changes that. We must therefore adjust our law, without waiting for the phenomenon to spread.

Yep, he just made the argument that women in niqabs might be criminals. I’m also really looking forward to the new legislation the French National Assembly will propose…banning the ski mask.

And it just gets worse.
How can you establish a relationship with a person who, by hiding a smile or a glance — those universal signs of our common humanity — refuses to exist in the eyes of others?…But the niqab and burqa represent a refusal to exist as a person in the eyes of others. The person who wears one is no longer identifiable; she is a shadow among others, lacking individuality, avoiding responsibility.
I really have no words for how wrong this is. A woman in a burqa has no humanity? Because this man cannot gaze upon her face she has no individuality and so she ceases to exist? Really? And I love that instead of acknowledging his own bias against this Muslim dress, instead of acknowledging his own failure in seeing the humanity in another human being when they wear a burqa or nijab, he instead blames the woman. Yes, this covered woman makes you see her as non-human. Yes, that makes sense.

There are so many problematic things in this editorial. For example, saying that this isn’t religious discrimination. Because you know, so many non-Muslim French women are walking down the street in burqas. And then there’s the title, “Tearing Away the Veil”. I think really helps Cope in his assertion that this is a benevolent law that will uphold “the dignity of women.” As a woman, I can confirm that my dignity doesn’t at all suffer when men or laws tear pieces of my clothing off my body.

One of Cope’s more cogent arguments is that “[i]ndividual liberty is vital, but individuals, like communities, must accept compromises that are indispensable to living together, in the name of certain principles that are essential to the common good.” I agree, part of peacefully living in society is compromising with our neighbors. But it is not compromise if one party is forced to give something up without receiving anything in return. So what will Muslim women be gaining in return for giving up their religious and cultural custom?

It speaks volumes that Cope does not provide one way in which this law will benefit Muslim women. Rather, it proves that the health, happiness and rights of women were not the first priority in drafting this legislation. It is ironic that French leaders believe that the burqa ban will increase the visibility, responsibility and dignity of Muslim women. In reality, this ban will further push Muslim women to the margins of society. Yes, there will be some women who choose to take the burqa off but there will be just as many who are cloistered in their homes, unable to leave because of their religious and cultural beliefs. So what, exactly, is making these women invisible?


I have to say at this point that I hate the idea of the burqa and nijab. I think they are horrible customs based on the oppression of women. That being said, it is not my right, or anybody else’s to dictate how another woman worships her god.

The law that Jean-Francois Cope is proposing is just as repressive and misogynistic as the veil itself. Both the burqa and burqa ban are tools of patriarchal institutions, making women invisible and denying them the right to choose. We like to get up on our Western high-horse and proclaim our enlightened thinking, our commitment to equal rights for women. But oppression is oppression whether it comes in the form of clothing or laws that deny the right of women to control their own bodies.

Want To Change Things?

Just Say No!

I’m Not Back Yet

Dear Readers (If you even still exist):

I’m sorry for my absence. Life has been hard. I’m starting to feel better and am hoping to resurrect this blog in the near future.
As you can see, I’ve tweaked the layout which is why I’m actually posting now, I’m testing this new layout. When I return, First Fig will be a much cooler place. So stay tuned.
Until then, please enjoy my latest post over at The Exponent:
How You Can Help A Victim of Domestic Violence

Every month or so I’ll get a call from a friend or acquaintance asking me for information to help a loved one involved in a violent relationship. We all know or will know a victim of domestic violence; the current statistics are one in three women will be abused in some manner during her lifetime. I have two younger sisters and it blows my mind that statistically, one of us will be in an abusive relationship.

Knowing this, it is vital that information on how best to support victims of violence be readily available. I have found, however, that there is a general uneasiness and confusion on how best to do this. In my previous work with victims I gained some very specific knowledge that I thought might be useful to share here. To make things easier, I will use female pronouns since women are more likely to be victims but this information applies equally to men as they can also be victims of domestic violence, too.

So, what to do if you know & love a victim of domestic violence:

First, be a listening and non-judgmental ear. You cannot help your loved one if they don’t trust you.

When or if a victim confides in you about an unhealthy relationship you must first determine the lethality of the situation to determine the best course of action.

If it is not a lethal relationship, meaning there is no current threat of severe bodily harm or death, I think it best to start with domestic violence education. I particularly like the Power & Control Wheel because it covers all the different ways abuse might be present in a relationship. (If you are dealing with a teenage abusive relationship, this version is better suited for their unique needs.) After going through the wheel with the victim I then like to show them the Equality Wheel so they have an idea of what a healthy relationship looks like. (Teen version here.)

At this point there are several choices to be made, all belonging to the victim. Remember, your job is to be a support, any pressure from you will make things worse. Your loved one may choose to stay and work on the relationship. If this is their choice, I would suggest having her attend an outpatient domestic violence support group. There she will receive more domestic violence education and connect with other women in similar situations. Many social service agencies have these kinds of support groups but you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline and they can refer you to the appropriate places if you need further help.

If your loved one chooses to leave the abusive relationship, provisions must be made for her physical and emotional support. Despite having worked at a domestic violence shelter, I think it always preferable for victims to be surrounded by family at this difficult time. If your loved one will be living with family, make sure she is enrolled in a support group. If it is not possible for her to live with family then dv shelters are a safe, supportive place to go and they offer wonderful services. Domestic violence shelters will provide food and shelter, support groups and domestic violence education as well as targeted case management to help the victim get back on her feet. You can get referrals to local domestic violence shelters through the national dv hotline linked to above.

Know that the average woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves for good. Although this will be frustrating to you, try to be as non-judgmental as possible; the dynamics of abuse are very complicated and it is difficult to extricate one’s self from the figurative strangle-hold the abuser has over his victim. Be patient and remember that your loved one needs your support during these time more than ever. Also, please be aware that the most dangerous time for an abuse victim is after they leave the relationship. I strongly recommend having your loved one do a safety plan with a domestic violence advocate and get an Order of Protection if appropriate.

If, when you first speak to a victim, it appears that her situation is very dangerous, the first priority is to get her and any children safe. I would recommend a domestic violence shelter at this point because they are at un-disclosed locations and it will be more difficult for an abuser to find her.

Next, get the victim an Order of Protection. Many shelters will help out with this, they may even have a legal advocate on staff. If not, most superior courts do have legal advocates on staff and they can help victims navigate the complicated legal system for free. I can’t recommend using a lawyer or legal advocate enough; they understand the intricacies of the system and will be able to provide the victim with the most comprehensive Order of Protection possible. As a side note, if you feel like your safety is at risk for helping the victim, you may get an Injunction Against Harassment. While not as powerful as an order of protection, it might give you some peace of mind.

It is the goal of all domestic violence advocates to keep the victim safe and help them start a new, healthy life. Regardless of whether your loved one goes into shelter, I would utilize the services of dv advocates because they can provide your loved one with the most resources to overcome this traumatic experience and come through a survivor.

This post is getting too long but if you’re interested, I would be happy to do a follow-up post on what to do if your loved one gets caught up in the justice system or what you can do to help victims of domestic violence more generally. If you have question, please comment and I’ll do my best to answer. Also, I would love for those of you with experience in this matter to share tips that have worked or not worked so that others can learn from them. Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in our society, it affects all of us in one way or another. Only through education and commitment can we come close to ending this evil.

The Truth About Pop Music and Feminism

Cross-Posted at the Exponent


This past Saturday, mr. mraynes and I watched High Fidelity for the first time. About fifteen minutes into the movie, the John Cusack character asks, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” This question resonated with me because I have recently been asking myself a similar question:

Am I feminist because I’m discontented, or am I discontented because I’m a feminist?

Since leaving my job, moving to a new state and becoming a stay-at-home mother, I have felt a level of unhappiness that truly surprised me. I expected the transition to be hard but I did not expect to feel so vulnerable all of the time. My self-esteem completely collapsed in the space of two weeks and I am left feeling overwhelmingly helpless. Things are starting to get better, I am settling into a routine and I’m sure that with time, I will even enjoy being at home. But that doesn’t negate the very real fact that changing my fairly progressive lifestyle to a traditional one has wreaked havoc on my emotions, my relationships and my general happiness with life.

My question above is a proverbial chicken and egg question and really one of assigning blame; whose fault is it for my disillusionment with domesticity? The answer may seem obvious but humor me for a minute. Let’s analyze the first part of my question, am I feminist because I’m discontented? This begs the question, what in my life makes me discontented enough to turn to feminism? Well, the lack of quantifiable equality within the church and its’ rhetoric on gender causes me a great deal of pain and frustration. The invisibility of women in scripture, doctrine and bureaucracy is problematic at best. The diminishing of women to certain roles by Mormon culture echoes the objectification of women found in our broader society. We, as Mormons and members of society, should do better. This is why I am a feminist, to document, analyze and hopefully make better the small circles in which I travel.

If we are getting more specific to my life, I hate the inequitable division of domestic labor that mr. mraynes and I have now. Yes, he comes home and does the dishes but it doesn’t equal the multiple times I am on my hands and knees picking up cheerios each day. I hate feeling dependent on my husband to cover my basic needs. If I was to look at our relationship through the lens of academic feminism, the power dynamic in our relationship has changed dramatically. Money is power; before we were both financially contributing to our family, now I rely on the good will of mr. mraynes to see his money as “our money.” My knowledge of feminist theory is what I use to empower myself, it is my safety net in case I ever have to remind mr. mraynes not to be a misogynistic jerk. (I should note that this whole paragraph is horribly unfair to mr. mraynes who, himself, has been the stay-at-home dad and who has been nothing but kind, supportive and an egalitarian angel throughout this transition and our whole marriage.)

This brings me to the second half of my question, am I discontented because I’m a feminist? This is a hard question for me to want to answer honestly. Certainly if I didn’t have the framework of Friedan, Steinem, de Beauvoir, Toscano, it would be harder for me to articulate the gender inequities that I saw in the church, society or my individual life. I guess the question is, would I see them at all if I wasn’t a feminist? I can’t answer this question because I have never not been a feminist. I grew up in an egalitarian home and, although my feminism grew from that point, my expectation from life has always been equality. But in my dark moments (like the one that caused me to vow never to set foot in the Denver Public Library again), I really have to wonder, would I be happier if I always had the expectation of a traditional lifestyle and wanted nothing else? The “grass is always greener” side of me says yes, after all, Seriously So Blessed isn’t parodying nothing.

Does feminism make women happy is another proverbial question, one that has had lots of heated discussion already bestowed upon it. (See here, hereand here for a few examples). This is the conclusion I’ve come to: if feminism makes people unhappy it is because it illuminates all of the nasty parts of reality. It is much nicer to pretend inequality doesn’t exist or to not care if it does because it doesn’t affect you. I understand that this is a personal decision for every woman and man to make and I don’t judge anybody for not wanting to live a life where they see sexism, oppression and abuse all around them. But the truth is, these things do exist and some of us are going to see and speak it even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

In the end, attempts to place blame, whether it be on feminism, the church or leprechauns, are always red herrings. Truth is complex and often it is easier to blame an other than to be comfortable with that complexity. I am currently trying to accept my own truth; yes, I am discontent because I’m a feminist, but also because reality sucks and I am pre-disposed to be melancholy. But I gain nothing by blaming anybody or anything for my unhappiness; all I can do is work hard to find some measure of joy in the place that I am.

The Double-Bind

About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend an all day conference about the dynamics of gender violence in the South Asian community. The conference was put on by a wonderful South Asian feminist non-profit organization in Phoenix that I work with and was one of the best conferences I have ever attended.

Among the excellent speakers was a representative of the Peaceful Families Project which is a national organization devoted to ending domestic violence in Muslim families. I was impressed with the mission and the action of this particular organization but I found myself becoming more and more frustrated with the speaker as she progressed through her presentation. Although very knowledgeable about the Quran and the culture of Islam, the speaker seemed unable to acknowledge the problematic aspects of her religion. My frustration came to a climax when the speaker used the Quran’s Sura (chapter) four, verse thirty-four as proof of the progressive nature of Islam. Here is a translation of that scripture:

Husbands should take full care of their wives, with [the bounties] God has given
to some more than others and with what they spend out of their own money.
Righteous wives are devout and guard what God would have them guard in the
husbands’ absence. If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them
[of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit
them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most
high and great. (Haleem, 2004).

If you are wondering what is progressive in this, men are commanded to provide for their wives and if there are problems, they are told to first separate and only hit their wives if the separation doesn’t work. (In other translations, men are told to lightly beat their wives which I suppose is better than savagely beating your wife. (Go here for further translations and explanations.) I was perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief and categorize this scripture as a product of its time but to be told that it was a good thing for women was more than I could take. It was at this moment that I realized that for the first time in my life, I was on the opposite side of the double-bind.

The double-bind is a dilemma that many feminists find themselves in when they participate in a patriarchal religion or cultural tradition. Feminists of faith who identify with religions where women are not equal in either the theology or the institution find themselves caught between the two worlds they love, risking the reputation as a dissidents by fellow believers and as pawns of the patriarchy by secular feminists.

As a Mormon feminist I often find myself in the middle of this double-bind. I have been told on more than one occasion by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that I don’t have a testimony and that my heart is hard, that I have been deluded by Satan and that I should just leave the church. I have also been pitied, ridiculed and dismissed by feminists who say they care about women’s choices. The tension of being stuck between these two worlds is often overwhelming and painful and yet I find that there is very little compassion for women like me. So when I found myself in the role of the skeptical feminist, judging another woman for her faith in and apology for parts of a religion I find offensive, I was so ashamed of myself. That Muslim woman and I are in the same position; we are both believers of a religion that is undeniably problematic for women but nevertheless brings happiness, peace and meaning to our lives.

In the time since the conference, I have thought a lot about how to integrate my feminism and my faith and how to thrive within the double-bind. In order to make it as a faithful feminist you have to accept the double-bind as inevitable; secular feminists will never fully accept you and neither will members of the church. The trick is not to care; live in a way that is authentic to yourself and the God you love. The Muslim woman I spoke of earlier might have frustrated both the traditional believer of Islam and the outsider but nobody could accuse her of not believing in the God she wanted to believe in. There is nothing inauthentic about that.

I worry that the Mormon Church is losing amazing feminist women and men in the search for authenticity. I certainly do not mean to offend those of you who have chosen to leave, obviously the individual must do what is best for themselves and their family. But for those who are in the process of choosing or have already chosen to stay please don’t believe that it is impossible to live authentically as an active Mormon feminist. The truth is our lives are only as authentic as we make them. You don’t have to believe in or make apologies for doctrines and practices you find offensive. I have found that the more honest I am with believers, non-believers and myself, the less I feel pulled between the worlds of feminism and the gospel that I care so deeply about.

I will never say that life in the double-bind is easy or even desirable. I cannot promise an existence of peace and acceptance. I can say that the double-bind is a very brave life; it is not easy to live with that amount of complexity for a prolonged period of time. But there are rewards; there is something in losing yourself in a cause that seems impossible. There is something in the humility that comes from being dismissed on all sides. There is something in those quiet moments where God whispers to your heart “keep going” and gives you that one last breath to make it through Relief Society. There is something in shaking your fist at God and asking why until you feel like your soul will explode and then taking that energy and being the change you think God would want.

They are simple gifts…but who needs more than passion and God?

How Not to be a Feminist Rocker-Man

As I have stated in some of my previous posts, I am interested in exploring the ways men contribute to the fight for equality between the sexes. One of the bloggers over at The Pursuit of Harpyness posted the lyrics to a song that I thought provided a good example of how to fail at being a feminist man.

This is a song by Ben Lee, entitled “I am a woman.” (You can see a video here).

It’s true, it’s true
I’m a woman too
I move with the flow of the seasons

I do, I do
Cause I’m a woman too
I don’t make sense but I got my reasons

So hear me roar
I will not be ignored
If you’ve ever had to fight
You’re a sister of mine
If you’re heart’s got something to prove
Then you’re a woman too

It’s here, it’s clear
Is what can be unfair
There’s always someone being kept down.
It’s true, it’s true
Cause I’m a woman too
So shut me up and I’m gonna get loud

[chorus: So hear me roar, etc.]

The African he’s a woman too
The American he’s a woman too
The Palestinian he’s a woman too
The Jew? He’s a woman too
The freedom fighter, he’s a woman too
The messiah, he’s a woman too
This planet, he’s a woman too
And you you’re a woman too
You’re a woman too

Now I know that this song makes about as much sense as the language that spews out of my baby monster’s mouth, but apparently Mr. Lee is using the word “woman” as a substitute for the word “oppressed”. I suppose he deserves credit for recognizing that women are oppressed but he would have won more points without the whole “women are irrational” stereotype.

mr. mraynes hates when I tell him he doesn’t understand something because he’s a man. I totally understand why this bothers him, it’s the ultimate trump card and its hard to have a productive conversation after I’ve played it. But I need mr. mraynes to be a man; I need to understand his male experience and thinking much more than I need him to understand what it is like to be a woman…I already get that.

So I guess what I’m saying to all you feminist men out there is be men and be proud of it! Us women-folk have the woman thing down; we need you to confront the gender problems from your male perspective.

Oh, and if you want to write a subversive feminist song, this is how you do it!